My project aims to promote global biodiversity by stopping illegal logging activities of Central African trees. Since traditional taxonomic methods do not always allow for the correct identification of woody species, I will develop cost-effective molecular techniques in order to create a genetic reference database for the fast and reliable identification of a broad range of African tree species.
Genetic identification of species plays a key role in the investigation of illegal trade of protected or endangered fauna and flora. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) categorizes over 35,000 species of flora and fauna as endangered, and many tree species used for timber production are under severe threat. Despite restricted logging concessions and improved forestry laws, recent studies show that illegal tree logging represents an alarming 75% of the annual industrial timber production in the DR Congo. Standard DNA barcoding is useful in determining accessions at genus level, but a more advanced procedure is needed to infer unknown individuals at species level or lower. As a result, there is a necessity for a genetic reference database that can be used to rapidly reveal the provenance and species affiliation of logged trees. High-throughput sequencing of the large collection of African trees that are present in the herbarium and silica collection of Botanic Garden Meise will yield full plastid and mitochondrial genomes, as well as the complete nuclear ribosomal cistron of selected species.
Objective: Create a genetic reference database of threatened African trees as a tool against illegal logging.
Maurizio Mascarello, Mario Amalfi, Pieter Asselman, Erik Smets, Olivier J. Hardy, Hans Beeckman, Steven B. Janssens, 2021. Genome skimming reveals novel plastid markers for the molecular identification of illegally logged African timber species. PLOS One.
Mascarello M, Beeckman H, Smets E, Janssens S, 2019. The use of high-throughput sequencing for the identification of illegally logged African trees. At: 5th Annual Meeting on Plant Ecology and Evolution. Meise Botanic Garden, Meise, Belgium. 29 November 2019.